Over the weekend I read a great post from one of my favorite bloggers, Laura Vanderkam, entitled “How to Score a Better Rhythm for Your Days.” She says, “Time management isn’t just about the management of hours. It’s also about managing energy. Some activities feel more energizing than others. Some are draining enough to require downtime afterwards.”

I hadn’t thought about it in precisely that way, but she sort of hit the nail on the head about something I’ve been feeling lately. Sometimes recently I’ll get to the end of the week and feel like everything I did all week was just things I had to be doing. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy some of them–in general, I like cooking dinner–and that’s also not to say that I don’t take satisfaction in being efficient and having gotten things done–I do. But when all I do every day is go to work, keep the kitchen clean, put food on the table, do the laundry, maybe watch a few TV shows, and sleep, it doesn’t feel sustainable. It starts to feel like I’m on auto-pilot. At this point I can recognize the feeling, but I haven’t exactly narrowed down how to avoid it.

Vanderkam’s approach is highly logical: keep track of your activities and give each of them a score on the scale of -5 to 5. Activities that you label with a negative number are draining, and activities that you label with a positive give you energy. “Think of energy as a pot,” she says. “Some activities pour energy in. Some pour it out.” It’s okay to have SOME negative numbered activities in your week. There are obviously some things that as adults we just have to do that we may not find energizing, but the key is in finding a balance. I touched on this recently when I proclaimed that I would try and do one thing every day that I didn’t have to do. While I still like the concept, I haven’t been great about keeping this resolution. I think my problem lies in not being able to come up with things that do give me energy. So I guess all the more reason to try and pay attention and keep a running list this week!

I do know that I am happier when I’m in the middle of a book. When I have a few minutes of downtime and I can pick it up, it makes me happy. If I have downtime and no book going, I feel adrift! Or if I’m reading a book and not enjoying it, and it’s NOT what I want to turn to when I have time–that’s a problem too. I really can tell a difference in my happiness level depending on having a book going. I like watching TV, and at times I turn to it more than to a book, but in the long-run I enjoy reading more. That’s something to keep in mind.

Being too engrossed in my phone or computer tends to drain me as well, I think. I think that checking Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram all. day. long. is something I want to do, but sometimes I find myself sitting there refreshing it just to refresh it. There might only be 3 new tweets since the last time I checked. When I’m absentmindedly picking up my phone and scrolling through Twitter during the commercials of a TV show, that’s draining to me. Times I’ve been away from social media for extended periods (i.e. camping)–I haven’t truly missed it that much. So I think I should be more intentional about creating that space sometimes and not falling into the trap of doing it just because I can.

On the balance scale, I’d say I had a pretty nice weekend. In fact, I think I’m pretty good, in general, at making my weekends (when I’m at home) a good mix of draining and energizing. When there are more hours in the day where I’m left to my own devices it’s a little easier to do, as opposed to during the week when many of my hours are taken up with work. (Again, not that there aren’t things I enjoy at work, but on the whole I’m not able to craft my day precisely as I might like.) On Friday evening I tried to convince myself to go to the gym, but I just couldn’t muster it. But I knew I wanted to do something, so instead I played Just Dance on the Wii! I burned some calories and had fun. (I am NOT a particularly good dancer, but I enjoy it.) I enjoyed spending the evening with my husband and even stayed up a little late sans guilt (usually I feel bad about staying up past my self-imposed bedtime) to watch an episode of a TV show I’ve been enjoying. I slept in a little bit on Saturday but then went to yoga, which was great. In the afternoon I interspersed cleaning up the kitchen, cleaning the bathroom, and cooking dinner with more fun activities like reading and watching “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix. Sunday I served as the volunteer operations coordinator at church (draining!) but then got to read and clip coupons all afternoon before meeting some friends for dinner. We shared delicious tapas and two bottles of wine and it was nice to start the week having not had to cook dinner! On the whole I felt rejuvenated by my weekend, so I must have gotten the balance on the positive side.

I’d love to know how this plays out in your life. What activities energize you, and what activities drain you? Do you try and balance the two out?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman